It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
I have a friend with a spinal injury who told me one day that he intensely disliked being praised for his "courage." He said courage was something you voluntarily chose to exercise; he had not chosen to be paralyzed, and after his injury, he had no choice except to learn to cope as best he could. I argued that it took courage to choose to cope - that some people simply gave up. He had heard that argument before. He said that for many of his friends in the rehabilitation process, there was no realistic choice. You either retreated into a shell, or you did what was necessary to become as independent as possible. "A better word than courage," he said, "is curiosity.
Either I can sit around in self-pity, or I can see what life has in store for me now." That kind of matter-of-fact realism is behind every frame of "The Waterdance," a film about a writer who is injured in a climbing accident and loses the use of his legs. The movie does not want our pity; it asks only for our attention. It is about the sorts of experiences one is likely to go through in the months after such an accident. The film was written and co-directed by Neal Jimenez, who is a gifted writer ("The River's Edge" was his screenplay), and who has lived through most of the experiences in the film.
"The Waterdance" stars Eric Stoltz as Joel Garcia, and follows him in great detail from the moment when he wakes up after his accident. He is in a brace to prevent further injury to his spine, and eventually the brace comes off, physical therapy begins, and he becomes involved in the lives of his fellow residents in the rehabilitation ward - especially Raymond (Wesley Snipes), who considers himself a Romeo but has been abandoned by his woman, and Bloss (William Forsythe), a biker whose prejudices are easily aroused by Raymond, who is black, and Joel, who is Hispanic.
The process of rehabilitation is slow and frustrating. It begins with denial and depression, and leads into an acceptance that is necessary if anything else is to be done. Joel's physical learning process is joined by an emotional one, involving his relationship with Anna (Helen Hunt), the woman he loves. Jimenez doesn't give us some soppy romance here, but a complex relationship: Anna is married to another man, has discussed leaving him for Joel, but now has to re-evaluate everything in terms of Joel's new reality. The film deals frankly with their new relationship, including its sexual aspects, and also painfully considers the adjustments the other men are going through.